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Forty years of California Poets in the Schools

October 20, 2004

Photo of Maxine Hong KingstonCalifornia Poets in the Schools (CPITS) will celebrate its 40th anniversary Sunday, Oct. 24, in "Sing or Speak," an evening of poetry performance and music. Co-sponsored by the Poetry Center at SF State, the event includes poetry readings by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder; National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author Maxine Hong Kingston; and poet/performance artist Juan Felipe Herrera.

California Poets in the Schools began in 1964 at the Poetry Center at SF State as the Pegasus Project, placing poets in classrooms in the Bay Area to read poetry to children. The poets soon began teaching children to write poetry, and the program evolved to include the students' active participation in the writing process. James Schevill, director of SFSU's Poetry Center from 1961 to 1968, founded the Pegasus Project with Mark Linenthal, now professor emeritus of English and creative writing.

"SFSU was instrumental in getting the program started and recognizing the need for poets to assist teachers in making poetry a living art," said Maxine Chernoff, chair of the Creative Writing Department. "It has effectively enabled thousands of school children and hundreds of poets to work together since its inception."

Photo of Juan Felipe HerreraChernoff and Visiting Professor Paul Hoover are both members of CPITS' Honorary Authors' Committee.

California Poets in the Schools now has programs in 29 counties from Humboldt to San Diego. Since 1964, half a million students have been introduced to creative writing by CPITS poets. Since 1987, CPITS has placed a yearly average of more than 150 poets in more than 300 schools across the state to work with 25,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. More than 100,000 poems are written every year by students in CPITS poetry workshops.

Mary Vradelis, executive director of California Poets in the Schools, said that although CPITS moved off campus as a nonprofit organization in 1984, SF State continues to have a collaborative relationship with the organization. SFSU students have remained active teachers in the program over the years.

Photo of Gary SnyderThe Poetry Center at SF State was founded in 1954 by Ruth Witt-Diamant, who was inspired by Dylan Thomas while visiting him in Wales. The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives, which has celebrated its 50th anniversary all year long, has the largest collection of recorded poetry performances outside the Smithsonian.

The archive has amassed more than 2,000 original recordings of poets and writers reading from their works at SF State. It owns audio and video recordings of nearly every visiting poet since the first reading at the Poetry Center by Pulitzer Prize-winner Theodore Roethke on Feb. 21, 1954. Luminaries who have read at The Poetry Center events and are recorded in the archives include Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Amy Tan, Salman Rushdie, Louise Glück and Alice Walker.

The Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives is open to the public and located in the Humanities building, room 512. For dates of poetry readings and information, visit the center's Web site or call (415) 338-2227.

CPITS 40th anniversary celebration takes place at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco and includes a tribute to past leaders, a gala dinner with tables hosted by well-known authors, and a silent auction. More information can be found on the CPITS Web site. For full-evening tickets, call (415) 221-4201. Performance-only tickets are available from TicketWeb or by calling (415) 345-7575.

-- Student Writer Audrey Tang with Matt Itelson


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Last modified October 20, 2004 by University Communications